James Kaprielian was traded to the Oakland Athletics as part the package that gave the Yankees Sonny Gray. Kaprielian had only thrown 29.1 innings in the minor leagues, and none at a higher level than high-A, but the A’s wanted him. And 57 innings into his first full MLB season, the A’s No. 10 prospect is living up to the hype. He currently holds a 2.84 ERA with a 27% strikeout rate, and an 8.7% walk rate. Let’s take a look at what he has.
The Arsenal and Approach
Kaprielian throws five pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, curveball, and sinker. His most used pitch is his four-seamer, throwing it 54% of the time. After that he throws his slider and changeup at nearly the same rate, 18% and 17.5%, respectively. His curveball and sinker are his least utilized pitches, throwing them just 5.9% and 4.6% of the time. His four-seam fastball is a pretty good pitch, albeit with middling velocity and below-average spin. Hitters are hitting just .216 against the pitch, with a near identical .218 xBA, and a .317 xwOBA. Kaprielian’s fastball has a 29.1% whiff rate and a 34.3% CSW rate. He’s in the zone with his heater 52.4% of the time and finds a whiff in the zone 27.1% of the time.
Kaprielian’s main breaking pitch, his slider, has been his best pitch this season. Hitters have been absolutely baffled by it, hitting just .122 and slugging just .146 against it. In fact, that slugging number is the league’s ninth lowest against a slider this season (min 150 sliders thrown). The pitch also garners the most whiffs in Kaprielian’s arsenal, finding a whiff 34.7% of the time. His changeup has been faring very similarly to his fastball, where hitters are hitting just .219 and slugging .250. However, it leads to a swing and miss a bit less than his fastball and the pitch’s 26.7% CSW rate is also a tad worse. His curveball and sinker, which are rarely used, hold some pretty ugly expected numbers. Both pitches have an xwOBA north of .420 and a xSLG above .740. Additionally, neither pitch can find a whiff more than 23% of the time. However, his sinker does hold a 31.0% CSW rate.
Kaprielian’s game plan is pretty basic. He throws his fastball at the top of the zone and throws it there very often. When he goes to his slider, he throws it down and in to a lefty. His curveball location is much of the same story, but has also found a bit more of the middle of the zone, which probably explains part of its shortcomings. Unsurprisingly, his changeup is thrown at the bottom of the zone and his sinker is thrown inside.
Kaprielian throws a lot of fastballs and the batter’s handedness doesn’t change this. He throws 53.8% of his fastballs to right-handed hitters and 46.2% of his fastballs to left-handers. However, 69% of his sinkers, 72% of changeups, and 77.8% of his curveballs are thrown to left-handers. Left-handed hitters have a .385 xwOBA against Kaprielian, so it isn’t really much of a surprise that those three pitches aren’t faring very well. On the other hand, Kaprielian has been extremely dominant of right-handed hitters—holding them to a .240 xwOBA. Kaprielian’s approach to righties is a solid dose of four-seam fastballs and a ton of sliders. He throws 98.2% of his sliders to right-handers, so nearly all them he throws are breaking away from a hitter. Here’s what it can look like.
As aforementioned, Kaprielian does some things very well with a few of his pitches. Overall, he finds himself in the 66th percentile of whiff rate and 70th percentile of strikeout rate. Both are pretty solid. His xwOBA and xERA are middling, both in the 56th percentile, and his 54th percentile xSLG is middling as well. However, his peripherals show one big concern: He is getting hit really hard. Kaprielian is in the 4th percentile by average exit velocity, 9th percentile by hard hit rate, and 32nd percentile by barrel rate. And although the whiffs have been a bit better than average, he is also in the 17th percentile by chase rate, so hitters are not leaving the zone often against him. Three of his five pitches are being hit hard more than half the time and although two of the three pitches are his sinker and curveball, which are not thrown that often, the third pitch is his fastball, which is thrown the most often. Kaprielian has thus far proven to be a flyball pitcher, delivering the 10th highest flyball rate among starting pitchers (min 50 innings) at a 45.9% rate. This is not inherently dangerous, since flyballs are typically the easiest kind of batted ball outs, but it is a bit concerning when you pair it with how hard he is being hit. For as often as he turns in a flyball, he hasn’t been beat by home runs quite yet. His 11.9% HR/FB is in the 69th percentile among starting pitchers, but I question whether it is sustainable. If the hard contact continues, I don’t believe his level of whiffs can make up the distance. But maybe Kaprielian’s 18 degree average launch angle—the league’s 17th highest average—is good enough to result in flyballs that don’t leave the yard.
Again, Kaprielian has a 2.84 ERA in his 10 starts this season. The results have undoubtedly been there, but how sustainable are they? He has two legit pitches in his fastball and slider, but he gives up a ton of loud contact and doesn’t miss bats at an elite rate. There’s some good and there’s some worries. Where does his true skill lie? Perhaps this is a conversation we will revisit after his next ten outings.
Photo by Kamp Fender/Icon Sportswire | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)